The Indianapolis Colts made a big effort this offseason to improve their offensive line, and through three weeks of the season I think we see that they had some success in doing so.
The numbers might not show it yet - according to Pro Football Focus Andrew Luck has been pressured on a higher percentage of dropbacks than any quarterback in the NFL so far - but they have cut down on the number of positions in question. Ryan Kelly looks to be the real deal at center and has done a good job so far, so now from the center through left tackle the left side of the line looks good. With Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, and Ryan Kelly at center the Colts have a really nice start at building their offensive line. The question comes with the right side, and I think it could get even more interesting in the coming weeks.
Here’s the deal: the Colts have three solid players for two spots (right guard and right tackle). They’re not going to start anyone who will be an All-Pro, but no matter what they have three guys who they can play winning football with and who will be good enough against many defensive fronts. I’m talking, of course, about Joe Reitz, Denzelle Good, and Joe Haeg.
All three guys can play either the guard or tackle spot, which gives the Colts more flexibility. Reitz is easily the most experienced of the group, as he has played in 63 games and started 41 for the Colts over the past seven years. He’s been a spot-starter for much of that time, though last year took over as the starting right tackle in week two. He wound up making ten starts at right tackle, three starts at left tackle, and one start at right guard during the 2015 season, and this year he was their unquestioned starter at right tackle to begin the season (starting the first three games). Reitz has always been a solid, reliable player for the Colts, but this year his play hasn’t been great - which opens the door for the possibility of replacing him, if the Colts wanted to. Reitz hasn’t been anywhere near bad enough that the Colts have to replace him (especially considering he’s been dealing with injuries), but he also hasn’t been good enough that the Colts have to keep him there either.
Good was drafted in the seventh round of the draft last year and is a guy the Colts seem to like, as he started four games at right tackle last year and was a player the Colts talked up this offseason. He made the move to guard and started the first two games at the position this year, doing a really nice job and providing encouraging play for the most part. He missed the week three game with a back injury, however, which paved the way for rookie Joe Haeg to get his first start.
Haeg was the team’s fifth round draft pick this year and had more college experience than most prospects, as he started 60 games at North Dakota State. He got serious reps during training camp but an ankle injury kept him out for a couple of weeks heading into the regular season. He returned for week two, however, and in week three was making his first start because of Good’s injury. In the first half, Haeg played right guard, and then after Joe Reitz went out with a back injury Haeg played right tackle in the second half. It’s not easy switching between those positions in the middle of a game, but Haeg did a good job overall for his first start, particularly in run blocking.
So now here’s the situation the Colts have: they have three guys who can play either the guard or tackle spots and do so solidly, while all three are also capable of playing that number six lineman role as the backup for several spots along the offensive line. At this point, Denzelle Good is their right guard, Joe Reitz is their right tackle, and Joe Haeg is their swing lineman as the backup at several spots - but will that change? Of course, if Good and/or Reitz can’t play, the decision becomes easier, but what about when everyone is healthy? That’s when it gets more difficult, and I don’t really think there’s a clear-cut right answer (so I’m not going to criticize the Colts yet if they don’t make a change, in other words). I understand keeping Good at right guard to see what he can do, since the Colts really wanted to switch him there this offseason and since he has done a nice job in the two games he’s played there so far. Then at right tackle, it may come down to whether you value Reitz’s experience or Haeg’s upside. You know what you’re going to get with Reitz, but what about with Haeg? There’s some unknown there - though, granted, he did a solid job Sunday - which might be intriguing to some. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut right answer to the question, but I think the only wrong answer at this point would be to not even consider the question.